Describing himself as ‘coffee drinker and chief action man at Creative Knowledge’, Tim Wilson (above) is a nomadic freelancer, who would far rather ply his trade in a busy café than a quiet home office. Here are his thoughts on the benefits of mobile working, the joys of a good cup of coffee and offers his tips for other would-be independent nomads.

I’m an independent worker and count myself lucky to be able to conduct my business as a nomad, with a laptop, a pair of headphones, a smartphone and a good cup of coffee.  I surround myself with a strong support network, many of whom do a similar kind of thing. In my opinion, why not support other independent businesses too? In fact, friends and acquaintances believe they will walk into an indie coffee shop in Birmingham with a fair chance that I will be found there. While such an arrangement may not be ideal to everyone, I find a few of my local independent coffee shops to be truly cracking work environments in which to get things done. I adhere to the mantra adorning The Coffice website: "They call it ‘going for coffee’; We call it ‘going to work’.”

The benefits of ‘coffices’

I am fortunate to have my coffices to work in. The boundaries and functions of the ‘traditional office’ are increasingly breaking down. In a day when we are increasingly connected through social media and working in the cloud, old school notions of an office environment are becoming blurred. Silent, stale working environments are not only boring, they are counterproductive. Sharing a desk or renting an office is arguably quite restrictive, not just in terms of time and cost, but crucially in terms of movement. Whether your office is rented or in your home, why not try and mix things up? Not all of us have the opportunity to be paid for working in a swanky office, but I think the nomads among us have the ultimate office as we can work anywhere and don’t have the restriction of having to turn up at a fixed location.

Time for a change of scene?

As freelancers, we create our own creative and flexible work environments to suit our needs. Thinking beyond your ‘regular’ work environment and trying out somewhere different can engage the brain in new, vibrant and exciting ways. If you are active day to day, then changing your working environment could also have a big impact on your productivity and outlook.  If you are at home or in an office right now and crave a change of scenery, then why not build this into your schedule? Furthermore, while for many of you the office is still the correct environment in which to get the majority of your tasks done, why not experiment a bit and go out somewhere? Even just try it on a Friday afternoon to begin with. Do some Googling, enquire on Facebook and Twitter, look around you and you may quickly discover alternative places and communities in which to do work or find spaces in which to plan ideas. Everyone is different, and it is important to find what works for you. Go find your new, alternative and favourite places.

Tim’s ten tips for nomadic workers

Tim Wilson plays the drums When he's not banging the drum for indpendent working, Tim's just, er, banging drums. Here are his tips for other would-be nomads on how to get the most out of mobile working:

1. Find ‘free’ internet.

Free is a relative term but for the price of buying a few coffees, cake and a sandwich, you can work away for as many hours as you fit in a new or different environment.

2. Silence is not golden.

According to the University of British Columbia, moderately loud environments make you more creative. I find silence is distracting and actually impedes creativity. The hum and buzz of a cafe is good for my workrate as it suggests movement and productivity alongside the constant whiff of roasted beans. Furthermore, you can also buy some headphones and create your own soundtrack to your working life.

3. Mix work with pleasure.

Blur the lines between work and pleasure. For some of you, work and pleasure/fun are the same thing. If so, brilliant. Nonetheless, if 20 minutes of surfing or tweeting gets you back in the mood for working then do it. Just be strict on your time management. Stick realistically to the time you give yourself and meet your deadlines.

4. Make your table a nice place to work.

You would do the same in your own office or home so treat your worktop in a coffee shop or other place the same way. Keep it simple. No clutter. No mess (cuddly toys optional).

5. Enjoy the travel time, too.

Think also of the transit time to and from a coffee shop as an opportunity to introduce another work discipline. For me, the added feeling of movement aligns with my productivity. Travelling is a sign of forward momentum and progress without the distractions that a stationary office or home provides.

6. Exploring is market research in itself.

Understand the DNA of a place. The more your explore, the more you will identify with your local environment, understand who the local talent is, who makes your local economy tick and those spaces where things can happen for your business.

7. Do your bit for local quality produce.

Consider supporting local, sustainable high quality produce and do your bit for the ecology around you. Quality is something to be proud to support.

8. Immerse yourself in the ‘with’ culture.

It’s also about who you are ‘with’ that counts. Think about places that allow for open dialogue, human-scale conversations and the idea of ‘co-’.  I inhabit communities that range from the people who frequent the shops regularly to the baristas and staff who you develop a rapport and friendship with.

9. Join/make a group.

Find your local Jelly or Likemind or other social gathering. You can even set up your own Meetup group or Jelly. If a gap is there to be filled, do everyone a favour and make it happen! The abundance of technology has made it so much easier to bring people together; find your places to chat, catch-up, develop ideas and collaborate.

10. Try co-working.

Co-working spaces are another solution for freelancers and independent professionals who the flexibility but feel they work better together than alone. The spaces offer you the opportunity to join a friendly and supportive community with a range of flexible rates and options. The co-working wiki contains further information along with a list of various spaces across the UK, as well as internationally. Whatever works for you, I wish you luck. Try being a nomad. Visit some new places. Sample some local quality produce. Take your laptop out and work in a wholly different environment. It could open your mind to business ideas that you never knew you had.

Hook up with Tim

Tim’s a regular participant in our daily #watercoolermoment chats on Twitter and helped us organise the first #watercoolmoment live at Birmingham Jelly recently. You can find him there or follow him on Twitter at @timmy666.

Got an idea for Free Range Friday?

Free Range Friday is all about the inspirational, insightful, innovative and just downright interesting things that small businesses do – whether that’s a clever product, a unique approach to marketing or just something that makes you smile. If you’ve got something you’d like to contribute to Free Range Friday, then please email Simon, the Enterprise Nation editor.

Have your say

San Sharma
San Sharma

Yes, I spend a bit of time working on my laptop in coffee shops - and buy coffee in exchange for renting the space!

San Sharma
San Sharma

Hi Chris,

I also write for the WorkSnug blog, and we put together a crowd-sourced 'Coffee Shop Code of Conduct' for laptop-toters using cafe space to do their work: http://blog.worksnug.com/post/12884363211/worksnug-coffee-shop-code-of-conduct

We always encourage mobile workers to pay their way by buying coffee as rent for the space they take up! I know I'm more likely to go into a coffee shop that has a few people in, rather than one that is completely empty. So, laptop-workers play a positive role in keeping coffee shops busy.

I see where you're coming from, but I - like lots of digital nomads - spend loads money in coffee shops and love to use them as third places to work.

San Sharma
San Sharma

Hi Chris,

I also write for the WorkSnug blog, and we put together a crowd-sourced 'Coffee Shop Code of Conduct' for laptop-toters using cafe space to do their work: http://blog.worksnug.com/post/12884363211/worksnug-coffee-shop-code-of-conduct

We always encourage mobile workers to pay their way by buying coffee as rent for the space they take up! I know I'm more likely to go into a coffee shop that has a few people in, rather than one that is completely empty. So, laptop-workers play a positive role in keeping coffee shops busy.

I see where you're coming from, but I - like lots of digital nomads - spend loads money in coffee shops and love to use them as third places to work.

Vicky
Vicky

I can't find the post, but I remember reading something from someone who works pretty much all the time in coffee shops. His big thing: tip *really* well, the staff will appreciate it and look after you. (Also, compared to the price of booking an office, a great tip is the least you can do!)

Chris Mackenzie
Chris Mackenzie

As a part owner of a coffee shop the economics for us of people working from a coffee shop can be detrimental. We have a small shop (32 covers) and we rely on a good turnover and maximising covers per table. Someone sitting at a table for four with a laptop for a couple of hours particularly at busy periods would seriously put our business in danger. We have to balance great atmosphere with good turnover and creating a working environment for people would put us out of business very quickly. So if you are a nomad think about the coffee bar owners business particularly if they are independents!

Rickie J
Rickie J

Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. To assure you, when us nomadic freelancers work in coffee shops - we are only thinking of the owners!! I only go to indies, usually outside 12-2 so I - & other freelancers - make the place look busier during the quiet times. Luckily for me I guess, I know all the owners of the 4 indies I frequent daily - and all the staff & I'm pretty sure they are OK with me being there. (feel free to ask them though) Furthermore, I run lots of events (business or leisure) at indie coffee shops to introduce even more people to them and encourage more usage. I think I do my bit! Where are you based? I'll pop in if I'm in your city!

Tom
Tom

Hi All,

I agree with the comments from Tim. I work on my own and find it very boring/uninspiring and sometimes almost depressing to work from my home office. This year for £65 I joined my local university library. Now I get a private desk with PC and work within an environment which has a real buzz about it. I also can stroll around beautiful University grounds when I need a break and have cheap coffee in the various good coffee shops all around. I do this about twice a week just to change my working environment and so far it has really given me a boost.

Sam Title
Sam Title

Here I was all prepared to add my 2p to Tim's blog...and then I got to the and had nothing.

There are some truly golden nuggets of wisdom up there on ways to mix up your workstyle. I'm ecstatic about Tim's position on using the Coffice.

(I was downright giddy he used my tagline in his copy!)

I'd like to address Chris Mackenzie's comments. I couldn't agree with you more on all of your points and concerns. There's a degree of etiquette that I - and countless others - believe should be followed when working from an independent coffee shop.

One person working at a table for 4 having bought 1 coffee, sucking up wifi bandwidth and a power receptacle over a span of hours is unacceptable. Period. That's behaviour unbecoming.

I can appreciate Rickie J's position about the perception of crowds during quiet periods and I'm certain he's a model Cofficer; however that doesn't remedy the economics. Ricky: you have the right idea and I'm glad you support the indies…but using the coffee shop's resources at any time of day is still taking away from their bottom line.

Some pieces of advice to Cofficers who DO want to sit at an indie shop to work would be to make sure you buy something every hour or two; tip the staff; SHARE YOUR TABLE with others (your bag doesn't really need that chair does it?); share power; hog-not the wifi; clean up after yourself; and try to put yourself in the shoes of your Coffice's owner(s).

How many freebies would YOU be okay giving before it started cutting into your ability to put food on your table?

Thanks again Tim for this post!

Sam Title Chief Executive Cofficer TheCoffice.biz Facebook.com/TheCoffice Twitter.com/TheCoffice

San Sharma
San Sharma

Hey Sam,

Thanks for sharing your tips for "Cofficers"!

I also write for the WorkSnug blog and helped put together a 'Code of Conduct' for laptop-toting coffee shop goers: http://blog.worksnug.com/post/12884363211/worksnug-coffee-shop-code-of-conduct

I think the space/bandwidth hogging, cheapskates are the minority, and that digital nomads are happy to support their local coffee shop, as its caffeine helps support them :-)

Liz Broomfield
Liz Broomfield

I can't often work in a coffee shop as the kind of work I do needs quiet and concentration. But I'm always sure (esp in an Indie) to buy regular cuppas, drinks and food to make sure they are getting out of me what they would get out of a non-working customer. For example, I went into one place last week and bought a. a coffee b. a juice c. a bun OK, all at the same time, because I didn't want to keep getting up, but still did that. Also if somewhere is getting full up, I will move on. Plus: I wouldn't trek across to one particular cafe and buy a coffee there if there wasn't a Jelly on. I set up a local networking group and we would not be in that cafe at all were it not for that - so we enhance business too. I reckon there are more people like us lot than the ones who just hog bandwidth with one coffee - especially those of us who are business owners ourselves. What about teenagers giggling for hours at a table with one drink between them? We love our indie coffee places and we want you to stay in business!

Sharon
Sharon

Why not mention the mothers with babies, prams etc that gather, make more disruption and take up far more room than a lone freelancer?

Before you go getting annoyed at me mums - I only mention you in conjunction with the discussion. I was a mother once and very much appreciated anywhere that would allow me & my friends to relax and chat for a while :-)

Gabriela Castro-Fontoura
Gabriela Castro-Fontoura

Great stuff! Just like the economics of new start up freelance businesses has changed over the last 5 years, so is the economics behind coffee shops shifting and clever coffee shop owners are finding new opportunities in tapping into a usually highly-educated, engaged and proactive demographic. Freelancers at coffee shops aren't one-dimensional either. They are likely to return when not working, with friends and family. Why not develop special offers for cofficers to attract them beyond work? Why not use them as your marketing team, engaging them in social media? If I visit an independent coffee shop to work I do link with them on FB/twitter and support them in that way. Also, what add-ons can they sell to a cofficer community? Can they partner with their local IT shop and run joint workshops? With respect to Sharon's comments, as a mum of two pre-schoolers myself, I couldn't agree more! In a sensitive way, of course. Those shops probably did wonders to my mental health during those early stages of motherhood. Now I have two coffee-culture-trained boys that "appreciate" (demand!) our wonderful local cafes.

Simon Wicks
Simon Wicks

All good points. Gabriela - thank you. Amd I think Tim's recent posts about Coffee Birmingham and the SuperJelly suggest there are some open-minded businesses that are recognising and seiing these opportunities. I also know of one friend of EN who is passionate about encouraging pubs to open themselves up to co-working during the day. For my part, I've avoided coffee-shop working as a freelancer - mainly because it's all bland chains around my area and they just don't feel 'sympatico'. Until now - new independent cafe opened with great coffee, free wifi and they're happy to have people sitting working. I'm going to give it a go next week! Simon (Enterprise Nation editor)

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